FIDLAR – “Too”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “40oz. on Repeat” “Overdose”

With track titles like “Punks,” “Overdose,” and “Bad Habits,” it might seem like “Too” is more of the same from FIDLAR. Their first album, mind you, had “Blackout Stout,” “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine.” It might feel like there’s a gambit in song titles that FIDLAR is quickly running through. But, their sophomore album is an album that some people, myself included, didn’t anticipate coming so soon – the conflicting, adult album. Most punk bands grow up sometime – Rancid’s “Life Won’t Wait,” Dads’ “I’ll Be the Tornado.” FIDLAR’s maturity is a very reluctant one – some tracks on “Too” feel like holdovers from still-recent partying years. But as the guys grow up, they’re begrudgingly accepting a more sober life.

One of the best qualities of FIDLAR’s debut album, a personal favorite of mine, was an underlying, barely visible sense of angst. It only came out in certain songs, when the guys were sober enough to see that there were far too many problems in the world. Through the more youthful and the more adult songs on “Too,” the unifying sense is still the slight angst. This time, it’s on a more personal level, as “Too” is heavy on self-reflection. “I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to talk to someone I don’t know,” is sung on “40oz. on Repeat.” “One week sober / and I’m still hungover,” from closer “Bad Habits.” “FIDLAR” was a humorously self-deprecating album, but “Too” ditches the humor. Take the lyrics from “Bad Habits,” set them in an entirely different musical context, and they could fit nicely on an Alice in Chains album.

But they’re still at a crossroads, because there’s still party tracks. “Sober,” despite the title, is almost inarguably the strangest song in the band’s catalog, with the opening third of the song done almost in spoken word (think the beginning of “The Sweater Song”* but with the vocal melody of “Baby Got Back”). And the album’s penultimate track, “Bad Medicine,” is a >3 minute song that feels like one last punk blast, for old time’s sake, the inverse of Renton taking one last injection in Trainspotting.

As with their debut album, the band has an innate and unexpected ability to eschew any one sub-genre of music. The downside is that it leaves FIDLAR without a distinct sound, something important in punk. But the upside is that each song is going to sound distinct. “Punks,” originally (or perhaps erroneously) titled “The Punks Are Finally Taking Acid,” is a heavy song, centered on a guitar riff akin to a quickened “She’s So Heavy,” with pained, screamed vocals. But follow-up “West Coast” is the kind of bouncy sing-along you more expect from the band. It goes back and forth, often reflective of the lyrics, and it adds a cohesiveness to the album. The lyrics are well-rounded, so the music should be too.

“Too” does ask one question that it does not answer – who should FIDLAR’s audience be, now? Their first album was able to answer that question very, very easily – partying punks and skaters. It’s practically a Ten Commandments for SoCal late teens who are gradually becoming less aware of Mat Hoffman. But their second album was made more for themselves, and that’s a dangerous line to cross. Just because we’re being let on on FIDLAR’s internal struggles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something we want to see. I’m genuinely not sure who the intended audience is for this record, as the partyers generally aren’t going to warm up to the sobering songs as much. There’s a mixed audience for the album, and it’s going to be divisive among fans. Still, there’s enough going on that it stands as a solid, and different sophomore release. I’m just worried about what the band is going to have to go through for the next album.

* – I saw FIDLAR a couple months ago in Boston and they covered “the Sweater Song,” replacing most of the verses with the word “meow” repeated over and over again. Inspiration? Probably.

If you like this, try: Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” another album where a punk band suddenly tightened up, but not without a total maturity.

Perfect Pussy – “Say Yes to Love”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Driver” “Interference Fits”

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” Meredith Graves coyly sings on “Advance Upon the Real.” But there’s no stopping Perfect Pussy – there isn’t anything quite like this. In fact, it’s one of the only decipherable lines on the album. Perfect Pussy’s raw, cheap and ferocious punk energy is breathing life into music. The noise-punk band came together after Graves was asked to form a fake band to play in a scene of the 2013 film “Adult World,” and they ended up recording. They released their first EP, “I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling,” rather unceremoniously. But it was quickly picked up by major markets and by the time this debut LP came out (which wasn’t long), it was already hotly anticipated.

The first EP was four songs and roughly 13 minutes long. “Say Yes to Love” is double that – eight songs and 23 minutes. The whole album is characterized by relentless and chaotic energy and teasing intros and fade-outs. The volume is pushed to the max throughout, surrounded by reverb, power chords and lo-fi production. The chords themselves are deceivingly pop-punk, but Perfect Pussy are far too riotous to be considered it. The only song that isn’t all-out is the keyboard-prevalent closer, the ominously named “VII” (ominous because the EP’s song titles were in Roman numerals, suggesting parts V and VI exist). Even then, it’s a booming closer. The band’s intensity is thanks in part to the muffled production. It’s like the medium between Melt-Banana and Potty Mouth, recording with the production quality of Teen Suicide.

Fade-outs, reverb and tempting intros are a large part of this album. The opening song, “Driver,” waits a very teasing eleven seconds before the opening chords. “Big Stars” and “Interference Fits” have long periods of reverb at the end of the song, as if providing a quick break for the listener. And “Advance Upon the Real” has a little over three minutes of tape delay, at the end, in which some notes and chords in the background are just barely audible.

The vocals are improved on this album. On “Feeling,” Graves’ voice was so buried under the music that it was barely audible. They’re at least audible here, although the lyrics are almost entirely unintelligible. They might be taking a Lightning Bolt approach, burying the lyrics under fuzzy vocals to add a shroud of mystery. One of the album’s only other truly unmistakable lines is in “Interference Fits” – “Since when do we say yes to love?” – just intelligible enough to let the listener know what a red herring the album’s title really is. What follows, is Graves dubbed twice over herself, singing three different things at once.

Perfect Pussy have been one of the biggest bands to watch for 2014 and, no, they’re probably not going to become a household name, but they’re making waves in the music world. “Say Yes to Love,” even in its lighter moments, is intense. 23 straight minutes of vicious energy, fronted by Graves’ shout-singing (and Garrett Koloski’s machine-like drumming). Perfect Pussy have emerged from an otherwise empty Syracuse scene, and they’re here to stay.

If you like this, try: Potty Mouth’s “Hell Bent.” It’s not half as intense, but it matches PP’s pop-punk chords and lo-fi production.

-By Andrew McNally